Wairau Bar: The smoking gun

By Sally Blundell In Current Affairs

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“The birthplace of New Zealand”, our “collective hearth”, “the country’s first capital” – at the end of a long and unremarkable road through scrub and farmland, Wairau Bar has become the focus of scientific attention both here and abroad not only as the earliest settlement centre for New Zealand (maybe, perhaps, probably, say the scientists) but also as journey’s end for the last major wave of human migration that began around 3500 years ago.

A necklace of dolphin teeth found at Wairau Bar. Photo/Canterbury Museum

Evidence from human remains and artefacts unearthed from Wairau Bar several decades ago and from recent excavations and analysis over the past four years is now showing that this massive and highly successful diaspora from east Polynesia ended here, a site unlikely to be mentioned in classroom history sets but which makes New Zealand one of the few countries in the world to pinpoint what could be its first important place of landfall, so representing a baseline from which to trace the evolution of a unique culture.

At Canterbury Museum, the smoking gun for ethnologist Roger Fyfe is a 69mm worked shell identified as Acus crenulatus, one of only two clearly pre-European imports from the tropical Pacific to be found (the other being a black-lipped pearl fishing lure found on the Coromandel in 1964).

Sitting in a museum drawer, item number 1871 in the Eyles collection, it is, says Fyfe, a direct link between Wairau Bar and east Polynesia, particularly the Society, Cook, Marquesas and Austral islands where similar tools have been found from the same time period as Wairau Bar.

In 1939, 13-year-old schoolboy Jim Eyles, whose family lived and farmed on the bar, discovered what has come to be described as the greatest archaeological find in New Zealand history.

Click here to listen to Jim Eyles discussing his extraordinary find 50 years later.

Searching for “Maori curios”, he came across an unexpected cavity in the ground. Using a piece of No 8 wire, he dug out what he first thought was a gourd but which proved to be a 20cm moa egg. Further digging unearthed bones – human and hollow moa bone “reels” – as well as a large necklace with a sperm whale tooth. Local interest was huge. The egg and necklace were put on public display in the window of Jim’s uncle’s fish and chip shop, and were transported each night in a Bycrofts biscuit tin back to the local bank for safekeeping. After much discussion, Eyles sold his findings to the Dominion Museum in Wellington for £130.

Read the full story by Sally Blundell in this week’s Listener:  Where it all began. Subscriber contentIcon definitionSubscriber content

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One Response to “Wairau Bar: The smoking gun”

  1. CaptainOlmec May 29 2013, 2:19pm

    Another futile and childish attempt by another redneck using so called science to again add nauseum to deny the fact Maori's arrive here a very long long time ago at around 4900 years from information I have researched pass to me by my olds. I can assure the reader when it comes to being a hardcore sceptic of such you won't find many as hardball as me and I am Maori. From info passed on to me and as geological related events and major tectonic upheavals have occurred on the past around the planet, some of these events according to my old people now gone these generated massive tsunami which impacted here on the East Coast and wiped out the first civilisation here. They arrive coming direct down the Kermadec Trench into the BOP from mid Pacific via Rarotonga a Tonga following the Thermohaline currents. The stone temples in Hawaii, Tonga, Easter Island, and those of South America, Mexico matching, the Maori the same Peoples. As far as I am aware and according to the info relayed to me from my olds the Tohunga Ahurewa ( High Priests & Paramounts ) from Tapuika, Tia, Rangitihi, Te Arawa etc four major catastrophes have occurred since their arrival long ages ago upon Gigantic Transoceanic Catamaran Craft. These people where giants of 9 to 14 ft tall. Thus their craft were not small as many assume and it is simply ludicrous to think such. The mindens in mentioned in this article would be from the repopulation phase which occurred many centuries later after one of these mega events. This why in all the stories related around this country by Maori concerning so called discovery arrival events said to have been carried out by a fleet of canoes survivors were found inland and on high ground. Thus this contrived BS that the Maori civilisation regarding the Maori Calendar and gardening knowledge and high astronomical knowledge said to have developed without prior experience beggars credibility simply because nowhere upon the planet where the arrival of a tribe of people at any point upon the planet ever recorded has a similar radical revolution occurred. I think our researchers opinions are therefore highly skewed by prevailing paradigms and his theories are being made to fit an already accepted dermally pale persons perspective of choice. Another redneck theory fit for the pire. Up in flames it goes. LOL.
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